26 Sep Mothering the new mother during her ‘fourth trimester’ – Part One
A few weeks after the birth of my son the midwife arrived to find both of us crying. When asked what the matter was I explained through my tears that unfortunately I had made a huge mistake. I thought I had wanted a baby but, in actual fact, I didn’t want the baby any more, it was far too hard and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind returning him or giving him to any passing gypsies. I was kind of joking at this stage (kind of!) and laughing through my tears but also wracked with guilt at how I was failing this beautiful boy that had been gifted into my care.
Luckily she was a very wise and experienced midwife. She looked benignly at me and said “That’s totally normal.” “Really?? But I thought I was the worst mother in the world?!!” “No” she replied, “you are just grieving for your past life.”
Eighteen years later and I still remember those words and my feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm and isolation. They say that it takes a village to raise a child but the thing was, I actually lived in a village! A small hamlet of only ten houses in the beautiful English countryside, surrounded by friendly neighbours willing to lend a hand. However, it had never occurred to me that I would need extra hands to care for this tiny baby. I mean how hard could it be? Surely, babies don’t need much? They just feed a lot and sleep don’t they? Plus it seemed that everyone else seemed to be getting on with this motherhood gig just fine. Why was I struggling and why did it feel so very hard and lonely?
Fast forward fifteen years and I am back in the country where I grew up and have focused my work on my passion for caring for mothers and babies during pregnancy, birth and the first few months of motherhood. However, after over twelve years of owning and running the Bella Mama Spa & Wellness Centre in Auckland, NZ – I noticed a worrying trend. Women who had enjoyed happy, healthy pregnancies seemed to be falling apart after the birth of their babies. Shocked and stunned by the changes in their bodies, struggling with postpartum mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, breast feeding issues and exhaustion. The joyful arrival of their new baby that they had so looked forward to had not eventuated and they have found themselves completely overwhelmed, exhausted and depleted.
There was however, exceptions to this worrying trend. Often, when I spoke to mothers who had different cultural backgrounds or had immigrated to NZ from overseas they spoke to me about how much they were looking forward to the weeks after their birth. How their mother or grandmother was coming to care for them, to feed them nourishing food, to massage them and help to care for their baby while they focussed on rest, recuperation and rejuvenation after the birth. How blissful this seemed compared to the Western paradigm of ‘bouncing back’ as quickly as possible after only a night or two in hospital with a spoken or unspoken pressure to start exercising, running a household and regain your figure as soon as possible.
I decided to investigate further.
Postpartum Care – Mothering the New Mother.
The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” Osho
In her beautiful book ‘The Golden Month – Caring for the World’s Mothers After Childbirth’ Auckland based acupuncturist and postpartum specialist Jenny Allison talks about the importance of the weeks following birth.
“The postpartum is a unique period of transition in a woman’s life.” she explains “In just a few weeks, as she recovers her strength and learns to mother her new baby, a woman’s body and mind undergo changes of unparalleled intensity. She enters a rite of passage which literally changes who she is, and learns many things about life and herself in the process. She also begins a relationship with her newborn which will be a template for the baby’s trusting relationships with other human beings, in a bond which will last their lifetimes.”
Jenny goes on to explain that care of mothers after childbirth is therefore of universal social importance. “Good care in the six week postpartum period is crucial to the mother’s heath & wellbeing and can have lasting benefits, not only to her health and relationship with her newborn baby, but more widely, to her family and community as well.”
This sentiment is shared not only in traditional Chinese philosophy but also throughout the world spreading throughout Asia, South America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.
In Part Two of this article we shall explore the foundations of postpartum care that are common in virtually every traditional culture and find out how you can bring them into your own ‘postpartum sanctuary’.
Jojo Hogan is an Auckland based postpartum doula and the founder of Slow Postpartum™ – an international movement that works to educate and empower society as to the importance of the postpartum ‘sacred window’ and to care for mothers and babies worldwide. To find out more or to work with Jojo, visit www.slowpostpartum.com
This article was first published in ‘Bump & Baby Magazine NZ’ 2017